Off Center
Plenty of call center professionals pat themselves on the back for maintaining a “world-class” first-call resolution rate (in the 85% and higher range). However, sustaining such a stellar FCR percentage is really only something to be proud of if your center: a) measures FCR in a comprehensive and accurate manner (no simple task); b) evaluates the full customer experience during the call in question; and c) isn’t continuously wasting resources to achieve a high FCR rate.

Yes, improved first-call resolution has been shown to have a direct correlation to improved customer satisfaction and lower operating costs. But that doesn’t mean that elevated numbers on an FCR report automatically equate to elated callers and better bottom lines. I’ve seen call centers with sustained FCR rates in the “world-class” range that, upon closer inspection, are mediocre at best..

How can that be, you ask? Here are several scenarios that reveal how sometimes a high FCR rate doesn’t really mean jack:

1) The case of poor measurement tactics. In Bob’s call center, the sole method for gauging first-call resolution is via a software application that tracks whether or not a customer calls back within a couple of weeks regarding the same issue they initially called about. According to reports from this application, the FCR rate at Bob’s center is around 86%, causing Bob to frequently kiss himself in the mirror and to quit taking his antidepressants. What Bob fails to realize is that 10% of those callers who aren’t calling back on the same issue actually aren’t going to call his center on any issue ever again. Why not? Because they recently defected to the competition upon realizing that several of Bob’s agents are about as fit to handle calls as Lindsay Lohan is to lead a rehab group.

Lesson: You should supplement your tracking solution with a post-contact survey that asks callers (immediately following their interaction) if they feel their issue has been resolved, and whether or not they felt the urge to punch the agent in the face at any time during the call.

2) The case of unnecessarily painful resolution. In Susan’s call center, they do a decent job of accurately measuring first-call resolution (via a combination of tracking technology and asking customers directly if their issue was resolved), and the center reports an enviable 83% FCR rate. However, they don’t spend much time evaluating customer-agent interactions (quality monitoring), thus rarely notice just how badly some agents mishandle calls before eventually resolving them. It’s important to note that many who call Susan’s center are active military personnel or public school teachers – people trained to tolerate exorbitant levels of pain and suffering without giving up – thus they are willing to endure excessive incompetence and abuse prior to getting the answer they seek. Needless to say, the center’s high FCR rate is not an accurate reflection of the quality or the efficiency of service provided.

Lesson: Be sure to incorporate a strong QA program into your FCR measurement practices, particularly if a notable percentage of your callers carry guns and/or are trained to subdue 8th graders with A.D.D.      

3) The case of wasting agents and revenue. Bill’s call center has won multiple awards for its FCR achievement, averaging an eye-popping FCR rate of 92% year after year. What the emcees at the award ceremonies always fail to share is that 50% of the calls that Bill’s agents receive are from callers wanting to know the directions to the nearest bank branch. Such routine and repetitive calls do nothing but skew FCR results while driving costs up and agents insane – and could be virtually eliminated with a little “find a branch near you” self-service savvy on the part of Bill and his IT team.

In a vehement attempt to end Bill’s long and undeserved reign as FCR king, I recently opened my own one-man call center where people all over the world can call and ask me if they are going to die. While many callers are displeased by the uniform – though correct – answer I provide, my current FCR rate is 99.9%. (It would be a perfect 100%, but among my callers was Mickey Rooney, whom I had thought was already deceased. This threw me off, and I was forced to hang up and call him back after doing some off-phone research.)     

Lesson: I have far too much time on my hands.
JR Hardenburgh
1/13/2011 09:59:01 pm

Great article. BTW, it is never too late to reach out to Michael Pace of Constant Contact to submit a bid on the keynote speech at the NECCF vendor forum this June. You would be a great speaker...and get a tour of the visitors locker room at Gillette Stadium for free.

1/13/2011 10:05:29 pm

Glad you liked it, JR. And thanks for considering me keynote-worthy.

Good thing the NECCF event would involve a tour of the visitors' locker room only -- I'm a Dolphins phan.

1/14/2011 09:47:36 am

Great article Greg - I hope it becomes widely read by all the FCR magicians out there!!

1/14/2011 10:00:33 am

Thanks Steve. This post did seem to be passed around a lot on Twitter today.

To be clear, though, I'm certainly not anti-FCR; it can be a very valuable metric, but only when carefully tracked... and considered in context of the full customer experience.

Ok, that's enough call center talk right now -- it's Friday night in the States, and Saturday afternoon Down Unda. We both need hobbies!

1/20/2011 12:17:29 am

Dear Greg,

I am a psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. The book is the first to examine our complaining psychology, its impact on how we complain as consumers (as well as in our relationships) and our interactions with the customer service industry. The Squeaky Wheel has also sold to numerous foreign territories for translation such as France, China and Taiwan.

As a reader of your blog I wanted to let you know about the book as it was just published. If you think your blog or newsletter readers might be interested in any of the topics below, I would be happy to do a Q & A (As an example of a topic, I recently wrote an article for Customer Service Manager titled, The 3 Things Complaining Customers Fear Most: Some of the other topics I discuss:

The psychology of the complaining customer
Customer service as dialogue
The psychology of customer loyalty
The psychology of service recoveries
Managing customer hostility
What customers today expect from customer service
The impact of Twitter and Facebook on customer service
The impact of caller hostility on contact center employees
Customer delight

For your convenience I am including a link to the book’s site on Amazon. It comes in hardcover, audiobook/CD (also available on and iTunes) and eBook formats.

Best wishes,

Guy Winch Ph.D.

karen wenborn
10/20/2011 01:50:10 am

Jack (my son) doesn't give a Greg about FCR. He does, however, invite friends round to listen to his mother (me)lay waste to a variety of contact centres (mostly, but not exclusively, off shore).I normally do obtain FCR. Over the dead bodies of IVR systems, under trained under skilled staff, managers who don't (manage), sales and service prevention depts....all of the usual.
The FCR score could well be high, but the customer experience is dire.
It does, however, make an excellent 'spectator' sport. Especially on speakerphone. Must do if it drags the chaps away from Call of Duty. More (virtual)blood spilt I guess.

10/20/2011 02:09:10 am

Karen, you win the "Most Colorful Blog Comment of the Year" award.

Not only do you seem to truly understand contact center management, your multiple casual allusions to dead bodies and blood make me wonder if you might be a consultant for the show "Dexter".

At any rate, keep fighting the good fight!




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